The Dunkirk Memorial to the Missing & Dunkirk Town Cemetery

Entrance to the Commonwealth War Graves section of Dunkirk Town Cemetery. 

‘Here beside the graves of their comrades are commemorated the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force who fell in the campaign of 1939-1940 and have no known grave’.

And in French.

The names, over 4,500 of them,…

…are listed on these screen walls that flank the grass avenue with, on the right,…

…a cemetery containing the graves of 1,253 men, 460 of whom died during the Great War, and 793 of whom died during the Second World War.  Some of these men were brought here from other burial grounds, some buried here originally.

At the end of the screen walls, on the panel being photographed,…

…the name of Lieutenant The Hon. Christopher Furness V.C..  Furness, aged 28 and son of Marmaduke Furness, 1st Viscount Furness, one of the world’s richest men, commanded a Carrier platoon of the 1st Bn. Welsh Guards, and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the retreat to Dunkirk.  His citation, eventually published in the London Gazette on 5th February, 1946, reads as follows, ‘Lt. Furness was in command of the Carrier Platoon, Welsh Guards, from May 17th-24th, 1940, at Arras. His extremely high degree of leadership and dash imbued his command with a magnificent offensive spirit during their constant patrols and many local actions throughout this period. On May 22nd, 1940, he was wounded, but refused to be evacuated. The enemy had encircled the town on three sides, and Lt. Furness’s platoon, together with a small force of light tanks, were ordered to cover the withdrawal of over 40 transport vehicles to Douai. Heavy small arms and anti-tank gun fire blocked the column. Lt. Furness, realising the seriousness of the situation, with three carriers and the light tanks attacked at close quarters the strongly entrenched enemy, inflicting heavy losses. His carriers were hit, most of their crews killed or wounded, and the tanks were put out of action. When his own carrier was disabled and the driver and gunner killed, Lt. Furness, despite his wounds, engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed. His magnificent act of self-sacrifice against hopeless odds made the enemy withdraw long enough to allow the large transport column to get clear unmolested, and to permit the evacuation of some of the wounded of his own platoon and of the light tanks.’

Engraved glass panel, depicting the evacuation, designed by John Hutton.

Busted box, missing register.  The CWGC has been informed.

The memorial itself was designed by Philip Hepworth and unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother on 29th June 1957.

View from the memorial looking back towards the entrance.

Our itinerary meant that time here was very limited, so there follows a series of photos that give the flavour of the cemetery, although hardly the usual tour.

The graves beyond the Cross are the Great War burials.  In the foreground,…

…and on the left here is the long line of headstones that constitutes Plot I, all Second World War graves,…

…with the Great War graves on the right.

The earliest date to be found among these Great War burials is October 1914, the latest February 1920.  The first, shorter, row, here on the far left, is Plot V, the remaining six rows Plot IV, but this is a World War II trip, and so, unfortunately, we shall not be visiting them on this occasion.  And anyway, Plots I, II & III, all Great War graves, are in an entirely different part of the town cemetery, as you can see on the cemetery plan, so I guess we’ll have to return another day.

According to the CWGC, among the Second World War graves ‘There are also Czech, Norwegian and Polish war graves within the Commonwealth section, and war graves of other nationalities will be found elsewhere within the cemetery.’  And there are indeed nine men of the Polish Air Force* buried here, and a single Norwegian Air Force pilot, but there are no Czechs, at least none that are identified, the other nationalities being two Royal Australian Air Force pilots, five New Zealanders (four RNZAF pilots & an infantryman), and thirty four Canadians, twenty six of whom are aircrew.

*three pictured above, left-hand row, nearest camera.

All the rest are British, well over four hundred of whom could be said to be ‘Dunkirk’ casualties, in that they died during the period of the evacuation.

Of the rest, eighty five are British airmen, the earliest date of death 28th May 1940, but only four are R.A.F. personnel killed during the evacuation, indeed the next airman buried here died on 26th March 1941.

Unidentified British soldiers, three of 213 unidentified Second World War casualties buried here,…

…another seen here on the left, alongside a Chaplain to the Forces in the centre.

Two lieutenant colonels with three Military Crosses – most likely won in the Great War – between them (above & below).

Looking south east across Plot II, the memorial in the background,…

…and panning left, this view now looking due east, the memorial panels beyond the headstones.  Many of the headstones in the centre of this picture, those facing across the shot,…

…bear the inscription ‘Buried near this spot’ (above & below),…

…evidence of later fighting,…

…or quite possibly later Allied bombing, I would have thought.

Some of the headstones nearest the cemetery entrance (above & following)…

…are also special memorials,…

…there being a total of fifty eight among the Second World War graves.

Information boards (above & below).

Panoramic view of the whole cemetery.  And that is that for our World War II adventures.  It’s back to the trenches for us.

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